Logging in the East Kootenay: More Cooperation And Ecosystem Based Forest Policy Needed

A lightning storm is looming on the horizon as I stare at a high alpine glacier, high over the forested hills of the Central Purcells. John Bergenske’s border collie, Pema, is usually holding a stick in her mouth waiting with wide eyes for someone to toss that magical piece of wood, but right now she’s cowering under alder as the storm’s first lightning strikes. With the drama of a thunderstorm rolling over the mountains, we’re lucky to be in such a beautiful place.

John and I are looking at proposed logging in the Central Purcells, not far from the Jumbo Valley. The bottom and the mid-elevations of this valley have been heavily logged in the last 50 years, but upper basins and steeper slopes are still mostly intact. The proposed block is in a small sub-alpine valley of old-growth Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir: key habitat for grizzlies and a vital movement corridor for wildlife. For large mammals, like grizzlies and lynx, who have very large home ranges, this proposed block is right on their most likely path to move between two remote valleys and their glaciated headwaters. In the next few days we’ll share our concerns with the logging company in hopes of preserving this key sub-alpine valley for wildlife.

Pushing for more sustainable logging

Wildsight works actively with all of the large forestry companies in the East Kootenay. During the planning process, we push to minimize environmental impacts, preserve biodiversity and protect critical habitat and movement corridors for wildlife. On the ground, we make sure logging takes place with as little impact as possible, especially expanding riparian buffers around creeks, preserving wildlife connectivity and protecting wildlife tree patches. Wildsight works in priority conservation areas like the Flathead, the Southern Rockies, and the Central Purcells to protect our wildlife, clean water and wilderness.

We meet regularly with foresters, biologists and executives as well as operators on the ground from companies such as Canfor, Galloway, BCTS and Canwel. We use our leverage from Canfor’s Forest Stewardship Council commitments, especially for designated High Conservation Value Forests, to push for better forestry.

And we take the lessons we learn in planning and on the ground into meetings with government and industry leaders to help shape regional and provincial forest policy.

While some forestry standards in the East Kootenay have improved, at least on crown land, our wildlife populations, wilderness and ecosystems are still under constant threat. We’re still a long way from truly sustainable forestry.

The annual allowable cut must be lowered to levels that protect short, mid, and long term timber supply. Remaining intact and untouched valleys must be left wild. The East Kootenay’s Ungulate Winter Range guidelines need to be re-evaluated in order to provide the best ungulate habitat and long term ecosystem diversity. On the provincial level, we need stronger forest policy and standards that our ecosystems, our wildlife and our mills can handle in the long term.

The trouble with professional reliance

In recent years, important forestry practices and forest management decisions have been made by forestry companies, instead of by government. Under this professional reliance model, registered professional foresters prepare logging and road plans. There is no requirement for road and site plans to be submitted to government and there is often little follow-up monitoring has taken place. There is no legal obligation for a registered professional forester to be on site during harvesting. Forest companies have significant oversight over government set objectives like water quality, biodiversity, and preservation of wildlife habitat.

Over the years, we’ve had real success protecting ecological values by working with local company foresters, who share our desire to maintain healthy ecosystems. Still, local foresters are company employees, and often economics take priority over doing what’s best for biodiversity. This isn’t always the case. We’re very proud of the work we’ve done with Canfor and other licensees in areas of the Flathead. Working with Canfor we’ve attempted to mimic natural stand maintaining disturbance patterns, we’ve expanded riparian buffers, created in-block connectivity and had a mainly minimal impact on a large landbase. But we believe that those forestry standards and principles of ecosystem based management should be expanded across our region.

We think forestry policy should be set based upon ecosystem based management that has a particular focus on species of management concern. In this way, logging can be done in a way that benefits both BC’s economy and our ecosystems.

Government foresters, biologists, and professionals need to be able to provide meaningful input to site and road plans. Government needs to allocate more resources to fully engaged with licensees at the planning, pre and post harvest stages to monitor whether government set objectives like water quality, biodiversity and wildlife are being met.

Since the adoption of professional reliance and the Forest and Range Practices Act, many significant decisions have been made entirely outside government. We need increased government oversight of forestry and sufficient ministry staffing and resources to work effectively in the planning process and in the field.

If we focus on keeping our ecosystems functional across the landscape, our forests and the wildlife they support would be in much better shape. It will take a lot more work and cooperation between forestry companies, government ministries, the public and organizations such as Wildsight.

As we head back down the valley once the storm has passed, the rain-wet road providing a respite from the constant summer dust, I’m hopeful that the old growth Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir we looked at today will still be standing next time I’m here.